The EU’s top court has told Poland to pay a daily fine of €1m (£850,000) in an row over judicial reforms.
Earlier this year, Poland was ordered to suspend a controversial disciplinary chamber but has not yet done so.
Poland has repeatedly been at loggerheads with the EU over changes that are seen as weakening the independence of Polish courts.
This month, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal angered European leaders by in effect rejecting the primacy of EU law.
The ruling said parts of EU law were incompatible with the Polish constitution, prompting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to speak of a “direct challenge to the unity of the European legal order”.
The original case was taken to the tribunal by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in a bid to prevent Polish judges using EU law to challenge his government’s judicial changes.
One significant factor in the EU-Poland row is that the European Commission is yet to approve €57bn (£48bn; $66bn) of Covid-19 recovery funds earmarked for Poland, and may not do so until its judiciary dispute is settled.
An opinion poll on Tuesday suggested that 40.8% of Poles believed their government should concede defeat and end the row, while another 32.5% said it should compromise.
A central plank of Poland’s controversial reforms is a disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court that critics argue is being used to punish independent judges because it has the power to sanction the content of their rulings.
Back in July, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered an interim ruling that Poland should suspend the chamber as it was neither sufficiently independent nor impartial. The Polish prime minister has said the chamber will be shut down in its current form, but he has insisted that EU institutions have no right to tell Warsaw how to organise its judiciary.
BBC Warsaw correspondent Adam Easton says the Supreme Court has stopped scheduling new cases for the chamber, but it has continued hearing cases that are already scheduled.
Last month, the EU asked the Luxembourg-based court to impose a daily fine until Poland responded. On Wednesday, the court’s vice-president ruled that the fine would have to be paid until Poland either suspended the chamber or until the final ruling on its future.
Poland’s leader told the European Parliament this month it was “unacceptable to talk about financial penalties” and he accused the EU of overstepping its powers.
His conservative-nationalist government has already been ordered by the ECJ to pay €500,000 a day for failing to shut down temporarily the enormous Turow coal mine and power plant close to the German and Czech borders. Poland has refused to pay that fine because it argues the plant heats and provides water to local homes.
The vice-president said the fine was being imposed to deter Poland from “delaying bringing its conduct into line with that order”, and it was necessary to “avoid serious and irreparable harm to the legal order of the European Union”.